How to Write a CV
How do you write a CV to get you to interview? We know that you have to have good story telling skills and position what you say carefully to get to the interview stage. Those that get to interview are not necessarily the best candidates in terms of skills and experiences!
We take you through key approaches and share lots of tips gained through reviewing thousands of CVs for junior managers to CEO positions.
We know that far too many candidates don’t do themselves justice with their CVs. Please don’t be one of them.
One of the most critical mindsets to have is to understand that your CV needs to sell your ability to solve the employer’s problem(s). Approach writing your CV while thinking of the employer and what problems they would solve by hiring you into the role advertised.
Look at the job advert and pick out the advertised problems first.
Let’s look at some key tips:
6 seconds to grab the reader’s attention
This is the average length of time a recruiter will spend looking at each CV. I was shocked when I was told this too.
That gives you 6 seconds to stand out from the other candidates. Therefore, what you put on the first page of your CV matters and it needs to be clear and easy to read.
Make sure the key points you want to get across stand out. We would suggest your summary contains all the key points you want to get across and your latest job title and the company you work for are clear to see.
Be clear on your key strengths and achievements
Before you start writing your CV, you must spend time thinking about
- what your key strengths, your skills & experience so far
- what you like doing. If you are happy, you will do a better job and progress quicker
- what achievements you can use to support your statements on your CV
When you have your list, prioritise them. Put your most important strengths and achievements at the top of each section of your CV.
This is one of the most important exercises so make sure you spend enough time doing this and keep coming back to the list. We know that candidates who don’t have strong CVs don’t spend enough time at this stage.
When thinking about how to write a CV, plan to include all key your strengths and achievements. Start at the top of your list and work down. You don’t need to cover all points when writing a CV but do need to include the most important points.
Also remember, your strengths, skills and experiences are all relative to the job that you are applying for. A junior manager will have a very different CV from a Board Director.
For a structured support using our Acing Inteviews Programme , see our course How to ACE an Interview
Length of a CV
We would recommend writing your CV, so it takes up two, or at most, three pages of A4, using a 12pt typeface. Even if you have lots of experience don’t write six pages. It just won’t be read. Cut the CV down to your most critical points. Don’t repeat the same points in each job when planning how to write a CV.
A recruiter will not scan more than the first page at first pass. 80%+ of CVs will go onto the reject pile at the first pass.
When the recruiter or hiring manager does a more in-depth review, they are likely to check for specific points rather than read the whole CV. E.g. qualifications, last job title, gaps in CV, job progression etc. Making good use of layout and section titles is important to help this process.
When you have even 100+ CVs to review, you don’t have time read all pages before you select those to be short listed.
Information that should be on a CV
When you write a CV, you should include the following
- Personal Details – Name and contact details. Make sure the email address sounds professional.
- Summary – this contains the key points that you want to get across and should address likely problems associated with the job being advertised.
- Work experience – current job first and then backwards in reverse chronological order
- Education – make sure all qualifications are clear including the grades achieved. If the grades are missing, one assumes they are poor.
- Any hobbies or interests or other information that supports your CV. Keep this very brief.
Make sure there are no spelling mistakes or poor grammar on your CV.
There are several ways to write a CV. The most popular are
- Reverse chronological order – listing each job in reverse order with your current one first
- Functional / Skills based – listing each of your key skills and your experience in each.
- Combined CV – both the above
95% of CVs are reverse chronological order. Most recruiters prefer this format and it suits those with a clear progressive job history. LinkedIn is also formatted in this way.
If you have significant gaps in your work history, a functional CV will help de-emphasise these.
A lot of hiring managers also look on LinkedIn and run a google search. I would suggest that you try to ensure all these approaches produce a consistent picture. Consistency inspires confidence.
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How to Write a good CV
Your CV must tell a story of your skills and career history and how this is relevant for the job that you are applying for. Applying for publicly advertised jobs is a competitive activity and it is rare that there are no other candidates. You need to sell yourself better than the next person and solve the employer’s problem(s). To solve problems, understanding the problem is usually an important step so think about what the employer will need to know from you.
Your CV needs to be easy to read. Think of it as a story, which highlights all your good points in an engaging way. Make sure you use sentences and well-constructed bullet points.
Avoid using jargon or sayings that are specific to one company. They may mean something to you or people in a similar function or field to you, but they won’t help the recruiter understand your story.
Keep what you write clear and concise. You only have a small amount of space to get all your key points down with evidence to back these up.
Add one example of an achievement that “proves” each of your key statements. Two examples of the same statement:
“I am an experience team manager and am able to deliver through others”
“I have managed of a team of 20 for three years. We delivered a 40% increase in revenue through five team projects that I managed and won Team of the Year”.
Which statement has more weight and which CV would you take forward? You can either add achievements / evidence with each point made or as a separate section. Separate sections are a little harder to follow and match up to specific statements.
Be clear what you have achieved and were responsible for. Don’t be tempted to embellish or make things up. What you put on a CV will be checked through the interview and referencing process.
Use active verbs not passive verbs in your CV
You want to show through how you write you CV that you take responsibility and deliver results, while keeping all stakeholders happy. Examples could include:
Don’t use passive statements, or ones that suggest you may have been a passenger rather than the driver (assuming you were the driver).
Try not to use generic statements or skills that are minimal requirements
You do not have enough space to waste with general statements when writing a CV so try to avoid them. Some examples to avoid might include:
- Excellent communication skills (demonstrate this with a clear CV that is easy to read and follow!)
- Goal driven – an expected skill / approach
- Flexible – nearly every job needs flexibility.
- Motivated – you should be keen on the job to apply.
- Multi-tasker – a requirement of nearly every job
- Independent – the employer is looking for problem solvers, so independent thinking is needed
- Detail orientated – a requirement for many jobs
- Self-motivated – a requirement of nearly every job
- Team player – a requirement of nearly every job
- Hardworking – demonstrate this with your experience and what you have achieved rather than stating it.
Don’t use the phrase “Curriculum Vitae” or “CV” as a title when writing a CV. It will be clear to all what the document is and leaving it out saves space.
Final thoughts on how to write a CV
Once you have put your draft CV together, put it down and come back to it the next day. Review it for spelling, to ensure it is easy to read and well laid out. Finally amend it to add extra polish.
Then get partners or friends to read it and give you feedback. Make sure they can easily understand all the points you have made. When you have done this a few times you will have written a good general CV that reflects your experience and skills.
Finally, each job you are applying for is going to be slightly different. Tweak you CV to better solve the problems each employer has.
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